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Special Event

President Clinton Announces Aid to California During Power Shortage

Aired August 23, 2000 - 10:52 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: President Clinton, Rose Garden ceremony, to talk about now the new push for help with energy costs in Southern California.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... to help consumers in Southern California who've been hit very hard by skyrocketing electric bills.

I want to thank Governor Davis, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer and Congressman Filner for their leadership on this issue and their work with me.

The wholesale price of electricity has risen sharply in California this summer as a result of tight supplies and growing demand. This is having a particularly heavy impact where the price hikes are being passed on to consumers, as they are in the San Diego region.

Many families and small businesses in San Diego have seen their electric bills more than double. I've heard reports of senior citizens on fixed incomes being forced to choose between medicine and air conditioning.

Today we're taking three new steps to help ease the burden.

First, Secretary Richardson has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expedite its investigation of the wholesale power markets so we can better understand what is happening in California and provide policy-makers with the information they need to protect consumers in a timely fashion.

Second, I'm directing the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Shalala to release $2.6 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds for the families in Southern California. This doubles the amount of LIHEAP assistance in the San Diego region and will help to ensure that low-income families and senior citizens have the emergency help they need to pay their bills and stay cool.

Third, I'm directing the Small Business Administration to step up their efforts to inform small businesses about SBA loans to help cope with unusually high electric bills.

All of these are short-term steps to help families in southern California during the current power crunch.

I also renew my call to Congress to work with us to build a better energy future over the long run, to take up my energy budget initiatives and the tax incentives to promote energy efficiency and conservation. I hope they will also pass a national comprehensive bill to foster a new era of the right kind of competition in the electric industry, to establish a more competitive, efficient and reliable electric power system for our nation and to beef up efforts to prevent utilities from abusing their market power to raise rates above competitive levels. This legislation would save our consumers about $20 billion a year in power costs. We ought to do it and we ought to do it this year.

Let me say once again to the people of Southern California, we'll continue to keep a close eye on the situation. We'll do what we can to help you get through this summer. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are the power companies profiteering in California?

CLINTON: Excuse me, sir?

QUESTION: Do you believe the power companies are profiteering in California?

CLINTON: Well, that's what the folks are going to investigate. I want -- Secretary Richardson and I have talked about it. We just want the folks to look into it and see what the facts are. There is an unusual impact there different from virtually any other place in America and it needs to be examined. And I hope it will be.

I hope the assistance we're giving in the meanwhile will help.

And, again, I will say I believe that we could do an enormous amount if the Congress would pass the energy budget initiatives, the tax incentives to buy energy-efficient homes, vehicles, to retrofit business, and we pass the electric utility deregulation.

Let me remind you. Some of you may remember this. I went out the MMM (ph) power, east of L.A., I believe it was in San Bernardino, to dedicate a housing project that was part of an effort with the National Home Builders and the Energy Department, for working people on modest incomes, and the homes that they built there lowered average electric rates by over 40 percent.

So we need to take some structural action here to empower the American people to solve this problem themselves, too. We have deregulation and we give better incentives to people to build or retrofit their homes, their offices and to buy other energy efficient appliances, we can make a big difference here in almost no time. So I hope that'll happen. QUESTION: Sir, what do you think of Janet Reno's decision not to name a special counsel to investigate Al Gore's fund raising? Do you think it may look to some people like a whitewash?

CLINTON: I don't know any more about that than you do. I learned about it when I picked up the paper this morning.

QUESTION: What are you hoping for in your meeting tomorrow with President-elect Fox of Mexico, in terms of U.S. business potential and (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I want to get to know him, and I want to reaffirm the support of the United States, which I think is bipartisan, for good strong relationships with Mexico; the need for us to work together to deal with the drug challenge; our common environmental challenges along the border; and to make our trade relationship work for both sides.

So obviously I hope that there'll be long-term economic benefits. I think he's quite serious about modernizing the Mexican economy and moving forward with our relationship. And I've been impressed with what I've seen and heard about him so far, and I'm anxious to meet him and do what I can to get our relationship off to a good start.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think the most important thing is for me to do as much as I can for the American people in the job I have between now and January 20, and that's my main priority.

The second most important thing is for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to go out and spread the message, engage in the debate, and make sure the American people know what the choices are before them. And I think they're doing quite a good job of that. Now, if I can help, of course, within those parameters, I will do that.

I went to Michigan yesterday, I'm going to New Jersey today, I will do some work within the limits of my ability to do it. But the main thing is that the candidates carry the message, and I think they're doing a fine job.

QUESTION: The president of Colombia, you signed a waiver, yesterday, so that the aid can start flowing. There are still some problems with human rights violations; Congress has a lot of doubt. You are going to be there next Wednesday.

CLINTON: I did sign the waiver, but the Congress also passed the aid package and they expect it to go forward. I did it because I believe President Pastrana is committed to dealing with the human rights issues about which we're still very concerned. He has submitted legislation to the Colombian parliament, for example, for civil trials, for allegations of military abuses of human rights. And we also have a system in place for specific case-by-case investigation of serious allegations. So I think that we've protected our fundamental interests in human rights and enabled Plan Colombia to have a chance to succeed, which I think is very, very important for the long-term stability of democracy and human rights in Colombia...

HEMMER: President Clinton talking from the White House.

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